Submitted by Dr. Paul Sherman, Chief Medical Officer with Community Health Plan of Washington.
Federal health officials have cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children ages 5-11. It’s the first COVID vaccine to be made available for this age group. About 28 million kids in the U.S. are newly eligible.
Should kids get the shot? CHPW’s Chief Medical Officer and board-certified pediatrician Dr. Paul Sherman answers this and other important questions parents and guardians might have.
Q: Why should young kids get the COVID vaccine?
A: Children can become severely ill from COVID. It’s true that fewer children have been infected with COVID than adults, and those who do get COVID typically don’t become as sick as adults. Still, some infected kids might get very ill. In fact, more than 8,300 children ages 5-11 in the U.S. have been hospitalized due to COVID, with about a third of them requiring a stay in intensive care, according to federal statistics.
Infected children can also spread COVID-19 to their family and friends. So being vaccinated protects themselves as well as others. And the more people that are vaccinated, the fewer chances the virus has to spread or mutate into new, more dangerous forms like the Delta variant.
Kids need to learn and play. Vaccination helps ensure that children can safely experience the activities that are so important for their development–like attending class in-person and being around other kids.
Q: Is the vaccine safe for my kids? What are the side effects?
A: The Pfizer vaccine is the same one that has been given to millions of older children and adults. It’s just a much lower dose: about one-third the dose of what people 12 years and older get. It is given in two shots three weeks apart, the same schedule as for other age groups.
In clinical trials, more than 3,000 children ages 5-11 received the Pfizer shots. The vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID.
The most common side effects were similar to those seen in adults. They include pain at the injection site (sore arm), fatigue, and headache. Most of the reactions were mild or moderate.
No cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, were found in Pfizer’s trials for kids age 5-11. This is relevant because a very small number of young adults (over age 11) who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have had more serious side effects—including myocarditis.
Health officials continue to monitor for anything out of the ordinary as the shots are given out to more kids.
Overall, the vaccine’s benefit for preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 outweighs the risk of any rare, serious side effects.
I compare this situation to when seatbelt mandates were rolling out. There were stories like, “My uncle would’ve died in an accident if they were wearing their seatbelt because they were ejected from the car and landed safely before the car exploded.” Even if such scenarios were true and a few people died because they were wearing a seatbelt, we know conversely that thousands of lives have been saved each year by seatbelts.
Q: Where can I get my kids vaccinated?
A: Details are still being worked out, but the Pfizer vaccines for kids will be available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, hospitals, Community Health Centers, and other health providers. Some schools are also setting up clinics to give out shots.
To schedule an appointment, the state Department of Health advises:
Reach out to your or your child’s health care provider, your local pharmacy, or a mobile clinic near you
Search the state’s online Vaccine Locator tool (vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/), which will be updated as more Pfizer child doses arrive in Washington
You don’t need a doctor’s order to get a vaccine for your child, though you may want to talk things over with your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.
The vaccine is free ($0) for all children as well as adults.